Three unlikely elements mix at Heritage Bicycles in Chicago’s Lakewood neighborhood
It’s about to rain, and I’m headed (on foot) for Chicago’s Intelligentsia, mostly just to say I went there.
Certain Angelenos have told me that Chicago’s Intelligentsia presence, despite being the original, suffers a less-than-hip reputation; it’s rumored that some Third Wave mavens even consider it backward.
I hope they’re right, since my experience of Intelligentsia has always left me feeling unworthy, both of their coffee and their social scene. My favorite experience there was last September, in Pasadena, with Leslie, when I met Sumair and the coconut almond shake from JuiceMaids. But they’re not carrying JuiceMaids anymore, and I haven’t heard from Sumair for a while.
Strolling down Lincoln as thunderclouds gather, I pass what appears to be a bike shop. The sign says, in fact, that it’s a bike shop. There are bikes in the windows. There are also people sitting at tables.
I wonder if they are in the middle of designing, so I peer in the window. They are, in fact, lounging over coffee. There is a coffee bar, and a juice fridge, and a counter lined with glass-domed cake stands.
And, in the way back, there are also some bicycles.
An impeccably groomed young man, whose tragic hipness is offset by his lovely smile, passes me with an inquiring look as he goes inside. I walk away, because I’m headed for Intelligentsia.
And then I turn around and come back inside.
At least, I try to. But the door won’t unlatch for me. I feel about as dumb as an out-of-towner can. Another young man comes to open it for me.
I’m so tired from last night, all I can say to the barista–aforementioned young man of impeccable grooming–is “I don’t want a lot of caffeine. Will you make me whatever you think is good?”
To my surprise, he looks as if he’s happy to do so.
I meander into the back room, where there’s a retail alcove full of bags and clothing and helmets and some nifty wooden toys for children. Through a doorway is a bicycle workshop with two racing frames on the block. Sitting on a stool next to them is the guy who unlocked the door for me.
I ask if I can take a picture; he offers to take down the racing bikes, which aren’t germane to the shop, and put up some of the vintage ones that Heritage refurbishes for sale. As he does this, the barista walks a drink over to me in a little highball glass. It tastes like the way a crocheted blanket feels.
The barista, whose name is Cameron, calls it a cortado. I resolve to get smarter about coffee.
The mechanic’s name is Arlan. He was hired a year and a half ago on the spot, when the store was having its opening party. At the time, he was working in interior design, which is what his degree is in. He remembers buying an eleven-dollar candy bar off Heritage’s counter, just because he could.
“I was a baller back then,” he says, with a tolerant smile.
Arlan’s real thing, though, is making wood furniture. He also makes the wooden toys I was admiring. He designs and cuts them with a CNC computer program, then puts them together. They make me wish I did something more lucrative than writing, so I could buy them for my niece and whatever my other sister recently became pregnant with.
The rain seems to have done its thing, as has the cortado. A longing look at the tables against the plate-glass windows, haloing the patrons at work behind their laptops, makes me additionally wish that I lived here, so this could be my spot.
Three blocks around the corner, it starts raining again, even harder than before.